A study conducted by the America Federation of Teachers in 2013 revealed that U.S. students spent as much as thirty days taking practice tests and/or learning test-taking strategies. Considering how much rhetorical energy is spent by politicians and school administrators about time on learning, how is the time dedicated to nothing but test taking conducive to learning? Last year, in the school district where I teach, there were fourteen half days spent on test-taking strategies and an equivalent of almost twenty days taking standardized tests. That’s almost two months away from time on learning.
Why is all this testing being done? You’ll be told it’s to assess every student’s educational growth and to have a tool to measure a teacher’s effectiveness as an educator. In truth, standardized tests are not being used to improve education; they are being used to demonize and punish teachers and accuse school systems of not making the grade so that they can be taken over by private businesses to somehow make a profit along with replacing veteran educators with new ones to save money. I know this because I’m living it and see it every day. I can tell you it doesn’t work and there’s a history of facts to prove it.
Since the signing of No Child Left Behind and instituting the Common Core, America’s educational system has been stripped down and raped. Our students are being used as pawns in order to privatize public education so that politicians, businesses, and people who have never been inside a classroom since they were students themselves can get wealthy. What has this done to America’s curriculum? In order to raise test scores and not the quality of education, schools are spending more time on math and reading by taking time away from every other subject including history, science, art, gym, music to name a few, and even recess. Schools who have been deemed in danger of failing are also in danger of being taken over by the government, a system that has proven itself to be insane AND knows nothing about how to educate America’s children. The government is sending systems into panic mode instead of finding productive and effective ways to educate its youth.
Just look at history (a subject that some schools have all but cut out of it’s curriculum). One hundred years ago the same exact efforts were made to try and improve the public school systems throughout America: teacher’s pay, promotions, and raises were tied to student test scores and evaluations by administrators hoping to improve education. You know what they found out? None of it worked on improving education. Why? Because it ignored a multitude of environmental factors that can affect a child’s test scores including race, economic status, family life, and unforeseen circumstances and events within a child’s life. Case in point: several years ago I had a student whose family was victim to a violent home invasion the night before the MCAS was administered. This child was absent the first day of testing, but came on the second. He had a frighteningly visible case of PTSD. His mind was not on bubbling in the correct answer or making sure he restated the question while responding to an open response question yet my career’s future and that of my colleagues’ will be attached to his test score. These type of efforts to “scare” teachers and school systems into being and doing better has been tried in the 1920’s, 30’s, and 70’s and failed every single time. Trying it, yet again, today is utter insanity.
In 2005, the National Education Association conducted a survey among America’s teachers. They found that 60% felt that the most significant aspect affecting their ability to effectively teach their students was being forced to teach to the test. This was a survey conducted ten years ago. This teaching to the test has continued for another decade and does not look like it will change any time soon. What a disservice to the future of America.
So, what are we to do? In future columns I will be addressing ways we could possibly really improve our broken system. I highly recommend reading Dana Goldstein’s THE TEACHER WARS, A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. Many of her thoughts and ideas about America’s school systems are echoed in this column.